In early May several hundred investors, doctors and brokerage research analysts attended a dinner presentation after cocktails offered by the leadership of Myriad Genetics in Manhattan’s midtown. Salt Lake City–based Myriad, best known for its hereditary cancer tests, was in New York to tout new research on its increasingly popular GeneSight product during the American Psychiatric Association’s annual conference. The APA conference is an important event for Wall Street as well as pharmaceutical companies because of the massive amount of money Americans spend each year on drugs and therapy for treating depression. A March 2017 American Psychological Association article estimated the annual cost of treating depressive disorders at $71 billion and rising; in May Myriad said the total cost of major depressive disorder was $100 billion a year. Thus, taking notice of the latest drug development news could potentially be very lucrative for companies and investors alike.
To understand what Myriad is today, it’s important to understand what happened on June 13, 2013. The day began with Myriad having a patent-protected monopoly — its 2013 income statement is a testimony to the benefits of having no rivals — and a fearsome reputation for ruthlessly enforcing its patents. Myriad had been awarded patents in 1994 and 1995 for two genes associated with a risk for breast cancer. But by 2009 the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation legally challenged this, claiming genes are naturally occurring and thus not subject to patenting and that breast cancer research was being curtailed because of Myriad’s patents. (ACLU lawyer Tania Simoncelli subsequently discussed the suit in a November 2014 TED talk.)
Late that June 2013 afternoon, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in the plaintiffs’ favor, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing that the act of “separating [a] gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.” He bluntly added, “Myriad did not create anything.”
By the time Myriad’s executives arrived home that evening, the company’s entire business model had been upended, with three companies announcing their entrance into the hereditary breast cancer screening business; more followed.